A slightly abridged version of the review below ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on Tuesday, July 24 2012. (I also reviewed the Away Game for The List which you can read here).
And lo, a mythical bearded figure going by the name of The Pictish Trail repopulated a small Scottish Isle in the name of pop music and having a ball.
Two years since the Fence Collective first briefly quadrupled Eigg’s 78-strong populace with a party-seeking taskforce of bands and music lovers, the second Away Game proved to be as dream-like and welcoming as its predecessor, from the skirling pier-side salutation of local legend Donna The Piper, through the island’s hugely open-hearted inhabitants (not least the now-fabled Boden family), to the farmyard animals making way for us, and our tents, on their land.
Edinburgh alt-rock ensemble Meursault opened proceedings in The Ceilidh Hall – a cosy hut in the woods, bedecked in children’s decorations. Their terrific set played heavily on ace new album, Something for the Weakened, including axe-punishing versions of Settling and Dearly Departed, and a perfect first track in Flittin’, which captured our mood and sense of adventure. “We moved away, we slept under the stars,” Neil Pennycook sang, we all sang, full of the joys of a sunny afternoon, and blissfully unaware of the gales that would test the endurance of tents (and hitherto camping enthusiasts) by Sunday.
The rest of the evening was similarly thrilling. Glasgow electro-brass pop marvels Over The Wall raised the roof (well, canvas) on woodland venue The Marquee – a tent propped up by trees –with their brilliant, life-affirming songs of youth, and work, and love, and Thurso.
Sheffield indie duo Slow Club augmented their ranks with Welsh troubadour Sweet Baboo (who would later stage a typically deadpan solo show), for a set that celebrated last year’s album, Paradise (particularly the still-exquisite Two Cousins) and revealed a gorgeous, bluesy new number which aligned singer / drummer Rebecca Taylor with Maria McKee.
London’s Radials have a similarly striking front-of-stage vocalist / drummer in Sarah Tanat-Jones (ere of Edinburgh power-pop trio Come on Gang), and their Technicolor, sequinned punk-pop was fantastic.
Congenial host The Pictish Trail, aka Fence Records chieftan Johnny Lynch, performed a crowning set backed by various members of Edinburgh slow-core dreamboats eagleowl – his forthcoming album, Secret Soundz Vol 2 promises to be a thing of dreamy, alt-pop wonder – while Fence’s indie-rock champions, Kid Canaveral, unleashed such a barrage of exceptional new songs, heart-stopping ballads and party favourites that there was an on-stage stampede.
Another Fence signee, acoustic heartbreaker Seamus Fogarty, made for a glorious, laid-back Saturday afternoon, and Glasgow chamber-pop troupe Randolph’s Leap triumphed with their outstanding, erudite anthems. Frontman Adam Ross is a rare song-writing talent, and his voice is beautiful. A new aria, Isle of Love, “about a fictional romantic island where only good things happen,” was a perfectly-pitched soundtrack to the weekend.
Fence recruited an impressive Welsh pop contingent, including the aforementioned Sweet Baboo, surf-rock tearaways Y Niwl, psychedelic pop diviners Euros Childs and Gruff Rhys, and Rhys’ Super Furry Animals band-mate Guto Pryce, whose psych-folk outfit, Gulp, was heady with torch-lit electro-chanson. Vocalist Lindsey Leven has connections to Scotland’s great Maclean cult-pop dynasty, and that clan was out in force with the Beta Band’s John Maclean on the decks and his younger brother David helming one of the festival’s stand-out bands, ergo cosmic-electro, coconut-rattling, exotic-rock colossi Django Django.
And so the pop delirium continued. eagleowl brought the dream-rock rave in a sunrise-baiting 5am slot that will go down in Fence (and Eigg) mythology. Francois and the Atlas Mountains seduced us with their glitter-pop sex-party, as they always do – all hair-raising percussion, tropical indie and synchronised dance moves. Rob St John’s beatific doom-pop rendered the room more lovesick than ever for the songs on his brilliant album, Weald, including Sargasso Sea and the Acid Test. King Creosote’s revitalised pop powerhouse charged through bygone darlings like You’ve No Clue Do You and At the WALM (Hooky wants to watch his back: Uncle Beesley is a BASS MACHINE), while songs from KC’s current EP series were given thrilling, rock ‘n’ roll outings including the nostalgic, cantering Doubles Underneath and Ankle Shackles’ jaw-dropping mantra.
Clamorous natives The Massacre Cave, meanwhile, showed the early-hours Ceilidh Hall just why they’re the greatest thrash-metal band in the Small Isles (and possibly the universe).
There were also some lovely surprises. The cows on the beach. The strangers’ smiles. The bonfire light that never went out. And on Friday teatime, by the food tent (serious props to the Bodens and Eiggy Bread) King Creosote staged an ad-hoc busking gig. He was joined by Fence pop druid Gummi Bako (there is no finer, more absurd master of the rhyming couplet, quadruplet or octet than this lesser-spotted psychobilly-folk maharishi), and The Pictish Trail himself – a man who loves Eigg and its people so much that he moved there.
During the busking session, Pictish treated us to his outstanding new call-and-response anthem (“WON’T WORK!”) and King Creosote played requests, including Diamantina Drover. “Fences roll forever,” he sang.
They conquer hearts, and islands, too.
All photographs by Stephanie Gibson Photography. Stephanie is producing a limited edition book of images from Fence’s 2010 and 2012 Away Games which will be available to buy from www.fencerecords.com in a few weeks’ time. You can contact Stephanie on stephanie152 at btinternet dot com.